John P. Hamill did not remain on the sidelines for very long. After resigning as president of Fleet Bank of Massachusetts Dec. 31, last week he joined Sovereign Bank New England as CEO.

Although he’s assuming the top slot at the still-forming bank, it will be familiar territory for Hamill. He will oversee the 278 branches and 550 ATMs that are being shed by Fleet Financial and BankBoston as a condition of their merger.

Hamill joins Joseph P. Campanelli at the helm. Campanelli was named as the bank’s president and COO last September. The two will share the office of the chairman of Sovereign Bank New England, reporting to Jay Sidhu, chairman and CEO of Sovereign Bancorp, based in Wyomissing, Pa. Hamill will oversee small business, retail banking and community development, in addition to developing a personal trust and private banking group. Campanelli will focus on corporate and commercial banking, consumer lending and loan administration.

Banking analysts praised Sovereign’s choice of an insider for the job.

A lot of people have scratched their heads on some of Sovereign’s recent initiatives, said John Carusone, president of the Bank Analysis Center in Hartford, referring to questions surrounding Sovereign’s $1.75 billion financing package to capitalize the new branches. But Hamill brings a high level of credibility.

In addition, Carusone added, Hamill carries with him hands-on experience managing the franchise and an intimate knowledge of the New England banking network. Prior to assuming the presidency of Fleet-Massachusetts in 1992, Hamill was president of Shawmut Corp.

Industry observer Arnold Danielson, of Danielson Assoc. in Rockville, Md., also lauded the selection. Choosing someone out of the Fleet organization was necessary, he said. It’s a massive task Sovereign is trying to do.

For Hamill and Campanelli, the massive task will begin with cobbling together a management team to oversee the bank’s 3,000 employees and $12.5 billion in assets.

Among the chief roles to be filled, said Hamill, are the positions of chief credit policy officer and chief legal counsel, as well as a leader for the personal trust group. The bank had hoped to name some of these key positions by the end of last week, however a spokeswoman for the bank said those announcements have been deferred until at least the end of this week.

BankBoston and Fleet are two likely places to look for those people, said Hamill. But we’re also conducting a national search.

Having effective management in place will be essential prior to beginning the process of converting Fleet branches into Sovereign ones. The first wave of conversions will be in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Western Massachusetts. Those branches are slated to reopen under the Sovereign flag in late March. Eastern Massachusetts branches will not undergo conversion until late spring or early summer, according to Campanelli.

‘New Culture’
Discussions between Campanelli and Hamill began over breakfast about a month and a half ago, when Campanelli approached Hamill about crossing over to Sovereign. For Hamill, the writing about his departure was already on the wall at Fleet. The merger with BankBoston left no room at the top for him, and in April he’d announced his resignation, to be effective Dec. 31.

The more I heard, the more appealing it became, said Hamill. He said he was drawn to the notion of overseeing the same branches, but under a new banner and a new culture.

Campanelli and Hamill describe their new working relationship as a partnership. Hamill says it was necessary to create the shared office of chairman because the old-fashioned hierarchical situation doesn’t work anymore.

Hamill and Campanelli had worked together at Shawmut, but were not then on such equal footing. Hamill was the bank’s president and in 1988 was named vice chairman of Shawmut National Corp. Campanelli oversaw asset-based lending in Shawmut’s equipment finance group. Campanelli rose to be a senior executive with Fleet and has been with Sovereign since 1997 as president of its structured finance group.

Both Hamill, 59, and Campanelli, 43, refused to disclose their compensation or to comment on how their two salaries compare.

They will be based in equivalently sized offices at Boston’s 75 State St., the ornate, pink marble building with the words The Fleet Center out front. Sovereign will be taking about 200,000 square feet in the building and is currently in negotiations with the landlord to change the building’s name to The Sovereign Center.

Hamill dismisses the notion that he will encounter difficulties competing head-to-head with his former colleagues at Fleet. This town is filled with bankers who’ve been at other banks and are now competing, he said.

Hamill compared himself to a running back who leaves one professional football franchise to play for the arch rival but still chats with his former teammates after the game. His allusion to New England Patriots star running back Curtis Martin, who followed defecting head coach Bill Parcells to the New York Jets, was not lost on Campanelli.

I hope like Curtis Martin, when we go to a new franchise, we play even better, he said.

Sovereign N.E. Nets Fleet’s Hamill as CEO

by Banker & Tradesman time to read: 3 min